CONTROVERSIAL PLANS: Avonmouth hotel approved
Controversial plans for a 125-bed hotel in Avonmouth have been approved by councillors who a month ago thought the possibility of “disastrous” flooding would make it unsafe.
Most planning committee members were persuaded their fears were misplaced yesterday and voted to give consent for the development, as recommended by officers.
The consent allows St Modwen Developments to build a four-storey hotel and shops beside an industrial area on a large flood plain near Bristol Port.
It also gives outline permission for the future construction of warehousing and other commercial buildings on the 42ha slice of the Avonmouth and Kingsweston levels.
Councillors who first saw the plans in July, shortly after catastrophic floods killed more than 170 people in Germany, said building on a flood plain was “the last thing we should be doing” in a climate emergency and agreed to reject the plans next time they saw them.
They postponed their decision to give Bristol City Council officers time to provide more information about flooding and transport issues and to craft reasons for refusal that could withstand a possible appeal from the developer.
But after they were given a more detailed explanation of the flood risks on Wednesday (September 1), they changed their minds and voted four to two to approve them.
A 17km-long flood defence scheme to protect Avonmouth and Severnside is on track to be completed in 2025, about the same time that the St Modwen development is likely to be finished, the committee heard.
The council’s flood risk manager, Patrick Goodey, said the £100million scheme meant the hotel on Avonmouth Way was “very unlikely” to be affected by the next major flood event, which is predicted to happen in 2098.
And even if the Environment Agency were to “forget to close” the flood gates at the time of that event, flooding on the site would be “pretty shallow”, he added.
“So a very unlikely event, but if a breach were to happen there is still quite an easy route out of the site,” he said. “I think it’s quite an easy evacuation strategy to make sure people are safe.”
Labour councillor Fabian Breckels, who was among those committee members who voted down the plans on July 21 citing the “disastrous floods” in Germany, was irritated that they hadn’t received a fuller explanation about the flood risks then.
“The flood maps that you showed us indicated, unless there’s a breach of the flood defences, the site will stay dry,” Cllr Breckels said. “If we’d known that then, we could have made the decision [to approve the plans] then.”
But Green councillor Ani Stafford-Townsend, who chairs the development control B committee, still had concerns about building on a flood plain in a climate emergency and voted against the proposals again.
“Whilst I appreciate we are getting there with our flood defences, and you may consider them built, they’re not actually currently built,” Cllr Stafford-Townsend said.
Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston councillor Don Alexander told the committee before they voted that the development would bring jobs and a £2.8million investment in local transport infrastructure to the area.
Local roads are going to be affected by extra traffic from the development but those roads “are already struggling”, the cabinet member for transport said.
Neither Highways England nor the Environment Agency objected to the scheme, and officers were satisfied that extra planting and other measures would produce an overall gain in trees and biodiversity habitat.
The 42ha site is mainly flat grassland but was once occupied by zinc smelting works.
Bordered by Avonmouth Way, Kings Weston Lane and the St Modwen business park, it has a “high flood risk” and is criss-crossed by wildlife corridors, according to a planning report.
It is currently classified as the Avonmouth and Kingsweston levels but is expected to be redesignated for industrial and distribution uses under the emerging Local Plan for Bristol.
Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter
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